Wisdom for the Soul:
Five Millennia of Prescriptions
for Spiritual Healing
Compiled & edited by Larry Chang
Gnosophia Publishers, 824 pages, Hardcover, $49.95
Reviewed by Toby Johnson
The final quotation cited in this enormous tome of brief quotes of wisdom is from a man named Philip G. Hamerton 1834-1894, who wrote: “Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted than when we read it in the original author?”
Indeed, this book is founded on that fact. And a very impressive edifice is constructed upon it. Wisdom for the Soul is a sort of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations squared! But unlike Bartlett’s it is all focused on wise sayings, not just famous ones, and organized by themes rather than by author (a 47 page biographical index of the 2500 some authors is appended).
Larry Chang, the creator of this impressive collection is described as a student of Religious Science and the Dharma, with a grounding in metaphysics, spirituality, pastoral counseling and public speaking. He is also described as an exile from Jamaica who was granted asylum in the U.S. based on sexual orientation. So he’s a Gay man.
Chang demonstrates one of those functions of Gay men as keepers of the past and keepers of wisdom that White Crane has come to champion.
This, of course, isn’t a “Gay book” as such, though there’s wisdom from Gay writers scattered throughout. A cursory examination of the author index shows such names as James Broughton, Arthur C. Clarke, Quentin Crisp, Harvey Fierstein, John Fortunato, Michel Foucault, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Gomes, Paul Goodman, Langston Hughes, William James, Audre Lorde, Bill T. Jones, Somerset Maugham, Stephen Sondheim, Annie Sprinkle, Lily Tomlin, Gore Vidal, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Marguerite Yourcenar, etc.
What an exercise in history, literature and culture it is just looking at the names.
And I’m happy to say my name is among them. I was pleased to see that Larry Chang outed himself in his back cover flap biography, explaining his asylum in the U.S. for sexual orientation. And I am proud to report that I myself get outed in the book every time I’m quoted (in twelve places) because my book titles contain the word “Gay.”
As that quote from Philip Hamerton points out wisdom is often most easily absorbed and remembered in short aphorisms. Larry Chang gives us a plethora of aphorisms. And, now he is working on a book of wisdom sayings for the soul of Black Folk and another for the soul of Queer Folk. I’m keeping my copy of Wisdom for the Soul next to my meditation cushion. It makes a great source of affirmations and inspirations.
The wisdom runs from funny to profound, just as it should. This is marvelous collection.
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Selections from the book are also available on individual cards
for use as an oracle or for posting on the fridge. Check out www.wisdomforthesoul.org